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A virtually unknown side variation of Alekhine's Defense, the O'Sullivan Gambit may or may not have been named after the notorious (and seemingly first-name-less) O'Sullivan who scored one draw and twelve losses out of thirteen games in the Hiversum Zonal tournament in 1947, and about whom Harry Golombek said "O'Sullivan's play was rather worse than his score." No analysis of this strange opening is to be found on the web, only brief mentions in long lists of obscure variations, so this node will be written based on personal experience and a half-remembered article in the Irish Chess Journal about 10 years ago. The opening moves are:

1.e4 Nf6
2.e5 Nd5
3.d4 b5!?

The normal move in Alekhine's Defense at this point would be 3...d6, attacking the white central pawn formation. The move played seems bizarre, sacrificing a pawn for no good reason, but there is a certain amount of logic behind it.

  • Black is preventing White from playing 4.c4, attacking the knight. Admittedly it is only delayed, but the delay allows Black time to attack the white center from the flanks.
  • Black's white-squared bishop is going to fianchetto itself on b7, where it controls the long diagonal from a8 to h1 which has been weakened by White's e4-e5 pawn move.
  • Black is tempting White's bishop into a vulnerable position, where it can be attacked in order to gain further time for development.
  • Besides all this, the move is relatively unanalyzed and crazy-looking, which inevitably means that some White players will get cocky, making them more likely to fall into one of the waiting traps.

Now, having said that, there is one major downside which balances all the points in the list above, namely:

  • It loses a pawn

If White accepts the pawn, and really there is no reason for him not to, then play continues:

4.Bxb5 c5!

Another pawn is sacrificed, but this one cannot be taken. If White plays 5.dxc5 then there follows 5...Qa5+ 6.Qd2 (6.Nc3 is impossible because Black plays 6...Nxc3) Qxb5 7.Qxd5 Bb7, and Black will capture the pawn on g2 with his bishop on the next move, winning the rook on h1 and with it the game. There are several possible replies, with the best being:

5.Bc4! Bb7

Black cannot try the same idea as in the previous note (5...cxd4? 6.Bxd5 Qa5+ 7.Nc3! dxc3) because after 8.b4! Qxb4 9.Bxa8 the position is lost. After 5...Bb7 the position holds some attacking possibilities for Black based on the long white diagonal controlled by his bishop and the semi-open b- and c-files, but it is probably insufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn. As far as I know this opening has never been seen at grandmaster level, and with good reason.

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